Brief: Education Choice

February 22, 2019

Download Brief

A Catholic perspective:

Texas law rightly recognizes that families are essential for a child to achieve his or her maximum educational potential.[1] This is in accord with Catholic teaching, but the Church adds:

[Parents’] role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and others that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among the children. Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which every society needs.[2]

The family is the natural relationship that is most relevant to education because parents have the primary right and serious duty to educate their children.[3] Fulfilling this duty is essential to parenthood, necessary to a family’s happiness, and the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) works to strengthen Texas families by supporting proposals aligned with the principle of subsidiarity, according to which it is wrong for the community to take from individuals the work they can accomplish by their own initiative.[4] Pope Francis applied this principle to education to explain why we support educational choice:

The State offers educational programs in a subsidiary way, supporting the parents in their indeclinable role; parents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely the kind of education—accessible and of good quality—which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions. Schools do not replace parents but complement them.[5]

Civil law should maintain conditions in which individual citizens can easily exercise their rights and fulfill their duties. If law does not take suitable action in this regard, inequalities tend to become more widespread, rights are rendered ineffective, and the ability to fulfill duties is compromised.[6] Such a situation has disproportionately negative effects upon poor and vulnerable parents. Data from educational choice programs in other states indicates struggling families are the primary beneficiaries.

[1] Texas Edu. Code Ch. 4.001(a).

[2] John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio [On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World] November 22, 1981. § 36.

[3] Canon Law 1136.

[4] CSDC § 185-188; Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno [On Reconstruction of the Social Order], May 15, 1931. § 79.

[5] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia [On Love in the Family], March 19, 2016. § 83-84.

[6] John XXIII, Pacem In Terris [Peace on Earth], April 11, 1963. § 63.

Texas law and policy:

Educational choice is a public policy which allows public education funds to follow students to the education that best fits their needs—whether a public, private or  charter school, or other learning environment parents choose. Figure 1 illustrates the 27 states that maintain private education choice. This policy would help Texas achieve two goals contained in its current law and policy:

Opportunity: Texas has affirmed the view that education is essential to self-governance.[7] However, current educational outcomes indicate:

  1. 60 percent of public school third graders read on grade level,
  2. 32 percent of low-income public school third graders read on grade level,
  3. 21 percent of public school eighth graders earn a higher education credential, and
  4. 12 percent of low-income public school eighth graders earn a higher education credential.[8]

Studies indicate that education choice improves academic outcomes.[9] For example:

  • The average annual family income of choice participants in Florida is $25,756, and program participants were 40 percent more likely to enroll in college than their peers.[10]
  • Milwaukee students’ reading and math scores respectively improved by 6 and 11 percentile points.[11]
  • Washington D.C. students’ graduation rate increased from 70 percent to 82 percent.[12]
  • College enrollment by African American students in New York increased by 25%; enrollment in selective colleges more than doubled.[13]

Texas can provide such opportunity to low-income and vulnerable Texas students through educational choice.

Accountability: Accountability is the intentional movement of resources from less productive to more productive uses. State law can encourage accountability through public and private educational choice programs, though Texas only does the former.[14] Unfortunately, Texas law invites parents who want to enroll their child in private schools to pay twice for their child’s education: once through taxes for district schools and again through tuition for their own child. Such laws are unjust and discourage accountability.


[7] West Orange Cove II, at 100-101. 176 S. W. 3d 746.

[8] Texas Commission on Public School Finance, Funding for Impact: Equitable Funding for Students Who Need It the Most, December 31, 2018. 64-65, 11.

[9] For a summary of all extant research, see: EdChoice, Empirical Research Literature on the Effects of School Choice: Academic Outcomes of Participants, Updated Jan. 31, 2019.

[10] Step Up For Students, Email message to author, February 14, 2019; Matthew Chingos, et al., The Effects of Statewide Private School Choice on College Enrollment and Graduation, December 2017. Table A.2.

[11] Greene, Jay P., et al., Effectiveness of School Choice, February 1999. 190-213.

[12] Wolf, Patrick, et al.,, Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, June 2010. xv.

[13] Chingos, Matthe, et al., The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment, August 2012. 12, 14-18.

[14] Texas Edu. Code Ch. 12.001(4).

Download Brief

Top of page